HothousePosted: January 2, 2014
Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Simon & Schuster (August 6, 2013)
Kindle Edition $12.74, Amazon Hardcover $20.20
If, beyond being a reader of books, you’re interested in the history, and more particularly the internal goings-on of the publishing business, you need to add this book to your reading list. It tells in sometimes excruciating detail the story of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the publishing house known and respected for publishing some of the greatest twentieth century authors in the United States and Europe.
Founder Roger Strauss Jr. is depicted as one of those forceful, larger-than-life individuals whose intense personality shaped the house throughout its history. Though his name is listed first, John Farrar never had much of an impact on the company and is seen only briefly in this history. Robert Giroux came along later, but brought with him from Harcourt some of FS&G’s most distinguished writers, including Bernard Malamud, John Berryman, and Robert Lowell. He edited some of the most respected and well-read Catholic writers in the mid-twentieth century, including Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, and Walker Percy.
Of course the publishing house relied on some popular bestsellers to keep it afloat. There were some raised eyebrows when Roger published Gayelord Hauser’s Look Younger, Live Longer early on, but it helped pay the bills. After all, this was the publisher that brought us Susan Sontag, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Edmund Wilson.
Eventually economic reality set in, as well as old age. Roger had had more than one falling out with his son Rog, who eventually left the firm for the second and last time. He sold the company to a German industrialist, who soon also bought St. Martin’s press, into which he folded FS&G. Today it is part of Macmillan.
Yet a person with a smaller ego might have sold the company long before, and we have much to be grateful for in those many decades of editorial independence.